Written by Mary K. Williams
The movie opens on a late summer day with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) hanging aimlessly around a neighborhood playground. Soon he is approached by cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) with his posse and some bitter taunts are exchanged. Harry loses his temper and draws his wand. But before he can actually use it, the skies darken and the wind whirls about. Naturally, Dudley thinks that Harry is the cause of the sudden weather disturbance. Harry denies it but the point becomes moot as the storm intensifies and the two run for home.
And the story continues at a gallop. Dementors attack Harry and Dudley on their way home. Harry has no choice but to save them both with magic, although it is forbidden to perform magic outside of Hogwarts under the age of 17, and never in the presence of a Muggle.
Luckily, Harry is able to produce a Patronus charm, a difficult but powerful bit of magic. The Dementors are gone, but in their place appears Harry’s neighbor and former babysitter, Mrs. Arabella Figg. Mrs. Figg has been keeping an eye on Harry for years, on request from Dumbledore. She’s not quite a Muggle, but she’s not a witch either, she’s a Squib, a non-magical offspring of wizard parents. Mrs. Figg walks Harry and the dazed Dudley home, and advises Harry to be ultra-careful.
But being careful cannot keep Harry from a nasty surprise at #4 Privet Drive. No, not the usual nastiness of Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw – who coincidently plays a Wiccan on HBO’s True Blood), when they accuse Harry of hurting their dear Dudykins. No sooner has Harry shaken off the raindrops, when a Howler arrives. This shrieking correspondence informs Harry that because of the underage use of magic, he is promptly expelled from Hogwarts.
”Justice” utters Uncle Vernon.
At the end of The Goblet of Fire, Harry and the audience saw the real re-birth of Voldemort. But not everyone believes that “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named” is really alive and powerful. Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, does not believe this and has given slanderous quotes to The Daily Prophet calling Harry Potter a liar. So, since the incidents at the Tri-Wizard Tourney, Harry’s reputation is questionable, and all summer he’s not any contact with Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson) which he resents. Life’s been a bit dicey for our protagonist.
As the Harry Potter series has progressed, the themes and actions have become darker. From the beginning, Harry’s journey has not been easy, and in these latest installments of the story he has been accused of lying. Also he and his friends’ relationships have become more complex. Harry, Ron, and Hermoine have come to rely on each other more and more, yet they also let each other down from time to time, just like real adolescents.
It is interesting how the intensity of the storylines correspond with the maturation of the Hogwarts students. Obviously it just wouldn’t do to have the younger trio, as First or Second Years deal with the horrors of the Death Eaters, or the treachery of some members of the Ministry. Rowling would have lost readers if things were too severe. “Troll in the basement!” was enough for that age level. As all the students matured, they were able to handle more challenging situations, not just in magical terms, but in real life terms. (On a side note, poltergeist are said to flourish in a setting where adolescent stress is abundant.)
Order of the Phoenix has quite a few of these dark moments. After Harry’s aunt and uncle bring Dudley to a doctor, he’s “rescued” by Professor Moody and some other adult Wizards. They are all members of the Order of the Phoenix, a secret society created years ago when Voldemort was in power. The Order fought against the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters, and has now reformed because of Voldemort’s return. The fact that they are meeting again, is fairly scary.
Then, Harry has to attend a hearing at the Ministry of Magic, to plead his case against expulsion from Hogwarts. This Wizengamot, the high court that attends to Ministry legal matters, is a somber group, and Fudge is not making it easy, moving the meeting time forward with little notice. He had hoped to keep Harry and Dumbledore, as Witness for the Defense, from attending on time.
At Hogwarts, Delores Umbridge (well played by Imelda Staunton), a Ministry member, is newly installed as the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. She was also a member of the Wizengamot at Harry’s hearing. She is unnervingly menacing, giggling, as if to distract from her inner evil nature; she tortures Harry during a detention exercise while she sips tea from delicate china.
And remember poor Neville Longbottom, the hapless Gryffindor student and friend of Harry’s? Sadly, he recounts the story of his parents’ death at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange, a deranged and deadly Death Eater, and cousin of Sirius Black. He served as more of a comic device in the earlier films, but in Phoenix, he shows more maturity and strength along with unexpected sadness.
But there are triumphant moments as well. A group of students led by Harry, Ron, and Hermoine begin meeting in secret, not unlike The Order. Calling themselves Dumbledore’s Army, they practice spells over and over again. Since Umbridge is not teaching them actual magic, and they are starting to believe that Voldemort is indeed a real threat, they feel the dire need to protect themselves. Neville is shaken when learns that Bellatrix escaped from Azkaban, but he is resolved to fight with Harry, Ron, Hermoine, Ginny, Fred, George, Cho, Seamus, and the others.
Also in Phoenix, we meet new characters like Luna Lovegood, another Fifth Year at Hogwarts, who is clearly weird, but also sweet and insightful. She too is part of Dumbledore’s Army. And Hagrid returns, after being away during the first part of the film. He’s been on a mission to ask the giants to side with Dumbledore, and he also brought back his half-brother, a full giant named Grawp. He asks the three if they will look after Grawp in case Hagrid is arrested or has to leave Hogwarts suddenly.
Goblet of Fire had burgeoning crushes; Harry was interested in Cho, but lost his chance to take her to the Yule Ball as she went with the late Cedric Diggory. And evidently Hermoine wanted Ron to ask her to the dance but she ended up with not too shabby a date, Victor Krum (one of Ron’s Quidditch heroes to boot). In Phoenix, Harry finally gets close to Cho, and they share a Christmas kiss under magic mistletoe, while Ron and Hermoine are still just pals, there is an undeniable current between them.
Although the casting has been brilliant from the beginning of the series, it’s amazing to see the resemblance between Fred and George, and their father Arthur. (James and Oliver Phelps look strikingly like Mark Williams).
We also get a rare glimpse inside Professor Snape. In Phoenix the connection between Harry and Voldemort is examined further. At times, Harry seems to have either a precognitive, or remote-viewing ability, he witnesses events from Voldemort’s point of view, as if he is Voldemort. So the assumption is, if Harry can see into The Dark Lord’s mind, then the connection could work the other way. So Dumbledore asks Snape to give Harry Occlumency lessons, in the hopes that Harry can organize his emotions and thoughts so Voldemort cannot reach anything inside Harry’s mind through “Legilimency” (mind-reading).
Harry is not good at this. Snape gives him frequent lessons, chastising Harry’s poor performance, and generally being Snape-like. But when Snape disparages Harry’s father, suddenly the lessons have the opposite effect, and Harry can now see inside Snape’s mind and memories. Images of a younger, outcast Severus fly by on the screen. Then we see Snape being taunted by a young James Potter, Harry’s father. Snape hurriedly ends the lesson, but Harry is left to wonder about the past.
David Yates directed Order of the Phoenix, as well as the remaining three films in the series.